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>> rose: welcome to our program. tonight, stephanie d'alessandro and john elderfield take us on a tour of a new matisse exhibit at the museum of modern art. >> it's a period when matisse really seemed to have very intently stopped the kind of work he was doing before and began searching for something and we can chart him through the evolution of "bathers by a river" in fact and then i think through "the exhibition" trying different modes of painting. bringing together different styles, avant-garde styles of the time, ways of making the surface of works very different and reworked. and we watch him not sure where he's going but excited about the possibility of a new kind of art for himself and we feel that for matisse that was a kind of radical invention. he said about "bathers by a river" and "moroccans" that they
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were two of the most pivotal works of his career. i think it's important he used the word "pivotal" and not "important." it suggests there was a change that those works brought about in his career and i think that's part of what that radical invention is about. >> i think this was someone who had regularly changed but had done so in this period far more extreme than he'd ever done before. and clearly part of this was him coming back and engaging more in the art world of paris after having really spent the previous two years not wanting to be engaged in it. finding that younger artists, cubist artists, were now at the forefront of affairs and feeling that he's being pushed a bit back in time and feeling that even if he didn't feel so sympathetic with what they were doing, he knew that he was going to engage with what they were doing and learn what he could. and then also, of course, the other great thing that happened in that time-- or rather not so
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great-- was the outbreak of world war i. and i think he felt in this period that he wasn't allowed to fight in the war because he was deemed too old at 44. but i think he felt that in extreme times it gave him the freedom to be as extreme as he wanted to be in his art. >> rose: matisse at moma when we continue.
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captioning sponsored by rose communications from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose. >> rose: the painting behind me "bathers by a river" is on exhibit at the museum of modern art here in new york. it is by henri matisse, one of the most important artists of the 20th century. pablo picasso said of matisse "all things considered, there's only matisse." his best-known work conjures
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images of bold, brilliant colors joyous arabesque and decorative cutouts an exhibition that the museum of modern art here in new york explores a less examined but still critical period of his work. "matisse: radical invention, 1913-1917" gathers nearly 120 of the artist's paintings, sculptures, drawings and prints. it's the first show ever devoted to the work of this period which begins with matisse's return to paris from morocco in 1913 and ends with his 1917 departure for nice. matisse himself acknowledged the importance of these years when he identified two works-- the one behind me "bathers by a river" and "the moroccans" as among the most pivotal. the exhibition is a result of a five-year collaboration between moma and the art institute of chicago. the two curators recently joined me here at the museum of modern art to talk about matisse, his life, and his work. they are john elderfield, chief
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curator emeritus of painting and sculpture at the museum of modern art, moma. and stephanie d'alessandro, gary c. and francis comer curator of modern art at the art institute of chicago. and here is the conversation between the three of us. first of all, thank you and congratulations for what you have done here. this is a remarkable collaboration. the art institute of chicago here and the museum of modern art. how did it come about, john? >> well, it started five years ago when i visited chicago and found that stephanie working with her colleagues at chicago were doing work on their great matisse "bathers by a river." and the picture which had been begun in 1907, l/1909 and completed in 1917, the aim was
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to find out how that picture has developed over the years. and really it was an outcome of that that we moved to examination of other paintings by matisse done in the latter part of that period. and really from that the idea came of doing an exhibition. it wasn't first and foremost an exhibition project, it was kind of an investigation project. >> rose: why do you call it "radical invention"? >> well, i think that "bathers by a river" is a good example of this period. it's a period when matisse really seemed to have very intently stopped the kind of work he was doing before and began searching for something. and we can chart him through the evolution of "bathers by a river in fact, and then i think through the exhibition trying different modes of painting, bringing together different styles, avant-garde styles of the time, ways of making the surface of works as very different and reworked. and we watch him not sure where
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he's going but excited about the possibility of a new kind of art for himself. and we feel that for matisse that was a kind of radical invention. he said about "bathers by a river" and "moroccans" that they were two of the most pivotal works of his career. and i think it's important that he used the word "pivotal" and not "important." it suggests that there was a change that those works brought about in his career and i think that's part of what that radical invention is about. >> rose: can you describe the change? >> i think this was someone who had regularly changed but had done so in this period far more extreme than he'd ever done before. and clearly part of this was him coming back and engaging more in the art world of paris after having really spent the previous two years not wanting to be engaged in it, finding that younger artists, cubist artists, were now at the forefront of affairs and feeling that he's
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being pushed a bit back in time and feeling that even if he didn't feel so sifrp thet wick what they were doing he knew that he was going to engage with what they were doing and learn what he could. and also the other great thing that happened at that time, or the not so great thing, was the outbreak of world war i. and i think he felt in this period that he wasn't allowed to fight in the war because he was deemed too old at 44. but i think he felt in extreme times it gave him the freedom to be as extreme as he wanted to be in his art and he just kept pushing. and he never settled into anything but kept going picture by picture and often the works of this period are very different from each other although you obviously recognize that matisse is the person who's done them. >> rose: is there less color? >> there is less color.
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color gradually fades out. it's fascinating to watch it as one goes through the exhibition. that by the earl part of 1913, everything's gone out except blue. and these great blue canvasses of 1913. by 1914 the blue has shifted from high intensity to something more somber and blacks and grays are coming in. but additionally, as stephanie said, the method of attack of the picture is different. he's not only painting, he's scratching away, rubbing areas out and leaving things far more unfinished, apparently, than he'd ever done before. >> rose: were you working on "bathers by the river"? is that the painting you were looking at? >> we were working on that. >> rose: explain this process because it's fascinating what you can now do to understand how an artist approached an important painting. >> well, i think we always knew that there was a good
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possibility that "bathers by a river" was connected to two paintings that are today at the hermitage, "dance two" and "music." these are big nine foot tall 13-foot wide beautiful very vibrant paintings of a dance scene and a music scene. and by size alone we thought they might have been connected. there was always a thought among many matisse scholars that maybe matisse had received a commission from sergei show keen who had commissioned those two paintings that perhaps batheers was attached to that. so we had some idea idea before and in the '70s x-rays were taken of our picture. it's a big painting so it takes 122 sheets of x-ray of film to image. in those days we were able to cut those x-rays and piece them together. old schools are and paste and you could see what had gone on on the picture but each x-ray film had it own exposure time and colors changed between the
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sheets. also we took cross sections a president time which are microscopic samples taken at the surface of the painting throw the surface of the canvass and when you do that you can see different strata and color of paint. we did those cross sections at the edge and from that information in the '70s we knew that there were colors that were colors from an earlier composition that weren't there anymore. it was tantalizing information. what we were able to do in mid-2000s was go back to that information and ask some new questions from traditional kinds of art historical looking, but also bring new technologies to bear. so, for example, those x-ray films were done again and then we worked with this very talented computer scientist rob erdman in arizona who was able to write a program for souse that they could be scanned and then literally digitally stitched together so that we could on a computer screen move
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into that x-ray and so close that we could actually see the weave of the canvass. that allowed us to see detail that we could never see before. it allowed for tonal consistency in the x-ray that allowed us to see many changes that were there from 1990 all the way to 1917 and then many images that we knew of before. for example, there's a tantalizing black-and-white photograph from 1913. matisse actually hired a photograph to photograph a moment of transition of bathers using the conservator's cross section that they did. new cross section based on more precise information from that x-ray to very specific places on the painting they were able to then use the new color information we got from new cross sections to do things like recolorize a black-and-white photograph if 1913 sand
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reimagine this radical change in the painting. so it was a beautiful collaboration between curators and conservators and scientists and technician and new technology and all of that together gave thus idea that "bathers by a river" which we knew as a painting had stayed in matisse's studio the entire run of this moment, stayed with him until 1926, that it was a picture for him alone, it was, in fact, part of that commission but very quickly sort of decided not to be but it stayed with matisse and he continued to work on it. it became a vehicle for his experimentation and many of the changes we see in his career at this moment are reflected in the pictures... the images in "bathers" itself. >> rose: did you say this is not only something new but also specifically modern? >> i think it'sing? specifically modern. i think what's important
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about... when i think about this moment in matisse's career i think of a man, 44, not really that old but someone who, by the circumstances of the war, and avant-garde styles of the time felt it push to the side who devised a style for himself that had to do with currents of the time. but that kind of improvisation, the trace of his working, leaving the surface of his reworking and his experimentation on the surface for us to see seems to me, i think, to be a modern thing. it's very sincere. it's a way to be attached to things, to leave a trace of one's self and to me i think that's something-- for matisse especially-- very modern. >> rose: why was this period sort of never examined either through an exhibition or through a focus before? >> well, you know, i think there's a variety of reasons, one of which is that because of
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the war matisse decided he would not have a one-artist exhibition in paris. he showed in some sort so charity shows but he felt that it was improper for him to be drawing attention to himself as an artist while his countrymen were fighting. so for this reason many of these pictures were not known at the time they were painted and "bathers by a river" and "the piano lesson" two of the biggest most important pictures were not known of until 1926. and some other pictures not until much later. there are two pictures in the exhibition which weren't exhibited until 1966. and one painting which nobody had seen outside the collector's home until 1982. so, you know, while people were aware that there was this period it was different to what matisse had done before or afterwards, the full extent of it has only
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gradually been learned over time. >> rose: so you go to chicago and see she's doing this very interesting work in terms of exam in addition "bathers by a river" and do you say to her "stephanie! let's do a joint exhibition first at the art institute and then we'll bring it to moma"? >> well, i think first of all it was something special here. they'd already taken off the discolored varnish and they'd also removed the earlier attempts to restore the picture. so it was like looking at a surface with scouts removed and you could see through these to bright colors underneath and it was extraordinary to see this and think, yeah obviously this was begun in 1990, 1910 and he's worked on it all this time. and stephanie and her colleagues were beginning to talk about the technology that could be brought to bear on this and certainly as someone who's worked on matisse
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on and off for quite a long time one thing which really struck me was the profound irony of all this that matisse was so anti-technology himself, so anti-intellectuality and he believed only in instinct and yet the irony is that by using rational means, you can learn about his anti-rational processes. >> rose: but wasn't that the same reason since he was a product of instinct and... that made him believe in the beginning that cubism was a little too intellectual for him? >> absolutely. and i think he continued to feel that. there's one really wonderful interview with somebody went and was talked to him and mattice said something which caused this person to say "well, you'll surely you're not trying to put down intelligence?" and he said "i am.
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i only believe in instinct." and i think that that actually is another of the modern things about the process of how he worked in this period which is that paintings are made not by some external standard it's not simply you'll look at the world and copy it. it's not even that you look at the world and you pay attention to the picture and you add one piece. it's the further one which is you work according to states that you carry the picture to a certain level and then you think "is this finished? is it not finished? do i come to it again?" so it's a kind of closed-circuit system working between the artist and the canvas. and it's something which became so common, you know? and you see it, jackson poll lick, decoon anything, it's just so much used in later abstract
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art and later primitive art that we take it for granted. >> rose: so how do both of you think this exhibition might change the perception of matisse? >> i think something that's really important about this exhibition is that i think we've been able to really in looking at all the works from this period and getting a new sense of the chronology of his work, i think we have a new sense of matisse as an rtist who was very engaged in the world around him at the same time while he was in his studio making this work during the war he was using his prints to make money so this he could put together packages of food and necessities to send to prisoners of war. i think that was a revelation to me and many of us working on the show and it was really... reading through his letters and correspondence that we were identify examples of which those works were and donating paintings to benefits of wounded soulers. even in the case of "the
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moroccans" when we were able to identify the moment of when he reinvigorated this idea that he had in 1912/1913, in late 1915 he begins to think of making this beautiful painting again. when you read his letters you realize he becomes very sensitive to the presence of moroccan soldiers on the streets of paris. very concerned about people being involved in a war that they had no business part of and shouldn't have been and in a way that painting is... it's as much attached to that beautiful remembrance he had of that place as it is that particular moment in paris. >> rose: he was so committed to doing something for his country he wrote to his friend and basically... he was a minister and said to him what what can i do?" and he had a wonderful response which was... >> you've got to the do what you can as an artist do best. >> rose: paint well. >> paint well.
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>> and he took it to heart. and reading what matisse wrote to sambat and to others, one had a sense that he felt very discomfited at not being allowed to be in the war. and i think this is something which is difficult for us in the united states to understand. what it was like by a frenchman in 1914 to be faced by in this conflict. it was right there on their soil that matisse's hometown had been overrun. >> rose: behind the lines. >> yes. and i think that we are still in a way... as a vietnam in this, where we acknowledge the honor that accrued to people who chose not to serve that it's very hard for us to imagine back to 1914 to think of the dishonor which was attributed to people who did
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not serve in 1914. >> rose: what influence did cezanne have on him? >> well, cezanne was the artist who, right from the beginning, was the person who matisse felt was the one who was going to teach him most. and we know in 1899 he purchased a small cezanne bathers and it's a familiar story that his wife had been given an expensive ring the year before for their marriage and she agreed that this could be pawn sod that matisse could buy this painting. >> rose: what did he say about this painting that made him want it so badly? >> you know, i think that he didn't quite know what it was. i mean, you know, he had... he was going on instinct again. he thought about trying to buy a van gogh but then he said well,
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the van gogh looked like a poster and this had solidity... >> rose: like a what? >> like a poster. like flat and... flat colors and so on. and i think it was the link to the past to traditional figure compositions but created in a totally modern way and really right through this period it was that picture which carried his inspiration very much. >> rose: and if you look at "the piano lesson" and you look at "bathers by the river" you can see how he's incorporated cubism in his work. >> yes, yes. and what's interesting is that it isn't cubism in the singular. it's cubisms, you know? >> right. >> there are very different kinds. and one thing that really came to us in working on this is that people had in the past written about matisse and cubism. how was matisse influenced by
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cubism. and we realized it was just more complex than this. that there were artists like... who was first an imitator of matisse who then became a cubist and so if we can call him a cubist, why can't we call matisse a cubist. that he was simply a different kind of cubeist to picasso, to brock, and then he moved freely from different styles. and in 1914 he was looking at earlier cubism. in 1915 after spending a summer with greece, paintings reltding to greece, and then in 1916 melt works which clearly are indebted to cubism but do something which no cubist pictures ever did, which was to make out of a cubist language enormous paintings.
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and it's interesting to think about what picasso was feeling about these things. that picasso's cubism tended to be much smaller because it was painting made by the rest. touches added together. matisse's was arm painting, creating large areas. so to imagine picasso seeing this in 1969, it must have been an extraordinary thing for him and for the younger cubists. >> rose: what do you think turned it around? what do you think was the reaction when matisse saw it? >> well, certainly this is in a way the thing at the beginning of the exhibition which is not in the exhibition, of course, because it's down stairs in the collection. >> rose: the shining jewel of the permanent collection. >> and had an enormous motivation on him. that, you know, it really pushed
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him in a way. before that point he was the leader of the avant-garde. the enfanter the reb and suddenly picasso is there and creating a split between defenders of matisse, defenders of picasso and people who had been defenders of matisse moving into the other camp. and it was there, it was something which he knew eventually he would have to deal with and he begins to deal with in the a great painting which opens the exhibition, "bathers with a turtle" of 1908 and the year after. and the ultimate reaction to it is "bathers by a river" ten years later. >> rose: that's the reaction. if you want to do a picture i'm going do the same.
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>> rose: do you think in most cases seeing this sharpened matisse's sense of "i've got to respond this" because by nature he was so competitive? >> yeah, well, i think it's actually great to... i keep bringing up chronology all the time but it was at the spring of 1916 so i think that sense of competition was strong and i think there was a definite connection. there was a beautiful play of beautiful and white on this painting by picasso and we know that "bathers by a river" in 1617, that was one of the colors that matisse began to play with, blue and white and the contrast between them. so it can be as simple as that. >> rose: you think matisse was the greatest painter of the 20th
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censurely. >> yes, i do. this allows the fact that one can say that picasso was the greatest artist. >> rose: well, i was coming to that, (laughs) >> but i think that, you know, although matisse was not prolific like picasso... >> rose: but he was a sculptor. >> and he was a sculptor as... well marx's the was a sculptor as well as picasso. but i think that saying that picasso's the greatest artist allows for the fact that will his influence was certainly greatest. particularly of cubism. clicks right through the 20th century. certainly until... well, past mid-century, anyhow. but i think that when you look at matisse's paintings as a whole from... even before 1905 when he became an extraordinarily well known young
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artist all the way through to the paper cut outs if you allow that they're paintings, i just think that the totality of this is just extraordinary in terms of the kind of invention that they show. and that while, indeed, this period we're talking about is, i think, the period of the most radical kinds of invention. he was someone who really was determined to continually reinvent himself. and i know that picasso's often talked about the person that changed styles quickly and sure he did. i think that picasso's reinventions tend to be within one kind of flowing orbit. whereas what we see with matisse is... at certain points is "i'm not going to do this anymore. i'm not going to be a mannerist. if i keep doing this anymore,
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even if i'm doing great things, i will be imprisoned by this." and what an artist should preserve above everything else is the freedom. and he wrote about this regularly through his career right throw the '40s when he was making it. he wrote this wonderful thing about remembering early friends who made a great splash and saying "where are they now? they're resting on their laurels and they've been imprisoned by their success. artists should not be imprisoned by their success, they've got to keep moving, keep changing." and he did it in ways which are continually surprising. he did it picture by picture. >> i'm going to go through a series of them the. if spend a few couple minutes with each of them and i'll start with the blue nude in 1907 which was made before the period of
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time that this exhibition focuses on. but why is it important? >> well, it's an important picture for john and i because for matisse before 1909 he often made paintings as his primary focus and would stop and work on a sculpture when he wanted to, as he said, clarify his mind. clarify his means, and go back to his painting. and the blue nude represents a kind of break with that tradition. it's a moment when we see matisse look to sculpture and then sculpt dhour guide a painting. that's a picture that actually we know from an interview is 1941 was started because matisse was making a sculpture, a kind of reclining nude figure. and it's a wonderful sculpture that's in the show. and he was working on the sculpture, really, really excited about it and was so enthralled with it that he knocked it off the turntable he was working on. it kind of shattered his moment of concentration. and he picked up a canvas and
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painted the kind of sculptural remembrance of what he had been working on. not a nude laying in a forest but this kind of sculpture and what he had done. the notation so that he could go back and restart it again. picked the clay sculpture up off the ground, continued to work on it and when he was finished, when it had transitioned into the work that it is today he went back to that canvas and repainted the canvas. and changed that canvas and that figure of this reclining bomb from this sculpture. and when we look at that painting today we can actually see two layers of paint on that picture. one very thin that seems kind of notational and that figure then painted over with much thicker paint and changed in ways that reflect that sculpture. what's even more exciting than that is that there's a kind of surface dwoolt that painting. almost like matisse took blue paint, for example, on one of
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the shoulders and applied it as if he had been adding daubs of clay. and there's this beautiful kind of breakdown of that hierarchy of painting and sculpture where sculpture has a much more leading moment for a painting far's the at this time. in 1913 to 1917, we will see matisse apply some of the techniques of sculpting to his paintings. and so while it's an early painting for us in the show, it fits wh n with the theme of bathing, which something early on matisse experimented with. that painting and its two accompanying sculptures has more to do for us with this moment in' 13 to' 17 when matisse breaks down those hierarchys and it's an early example of him doing it. >> rose: how about "bathers with a turtle?" >> that's a response to demoiselles d'avignon. he'd obviously been shaken by picasso's painting. after picasso finished the
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painting there took place in paris a great retrospective of cezanne's work which included not only matisse's only little cezanne but also a big bathers picture. and at the left of the bathers picture of the big bathers picture by cezanne, there's a bather who bends down and it's hard to see in the cezanne what the figure is doing. maybe feeding something to a dog. it's not really clear. but obviously matisse realized that he could start with this motif and make a grand corn sigs so he did that. he actually grafted it on to a painting he'd done earlier of three nudes on the beach in the south of france with sailboats in the sea. and, in fact, if you look carefully at this picture, you can still see the marks of the sailboats underneath the first version of that picture.
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he then transformed it to have the kind of primal quality you get in cezanne but in a very extreme way. and as he worked on it, he moved the figures around, particularly the central figure and you can see how it started to the left and had a towel attached it to and it moved over. some parts are left alone as he moved it so that if you look carefully above the ear of the central figure you can see in the hair an eye from an earlier version. and around that figure you can see all the marks of the earlier working. so it's really one of the first clear examples in matisse's art of him presenting a very dramatic very clear image where he's showing you how it was made. he doesn't try and paint out all
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the pentiment and clean it up. he allows that sense of the time of the making to become part of the picture and that's also what the subject is about. they're looking this turtle, kind of transfixed and this is i think what you find yourself doing in front of the picture. he's given you something to focus on and then you start looking around and seeing that figure wasn't there before, this figure wasn't there before. and it's the great break through composition really after the demoiselles and preceding the commission of "dance" and "music." >> rose: why did he keep returning to these three bathers? >> i think it was his little cezanne which was bought early on. as you go through the show you can see, for example, the left hand figure on that cezanne is made into a separate painting
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with a blue ground and the actual figure types move right there. >> i think it's something about for many ma's the at this time in "bathers" and this three-figure format is part of this where it was a kind of familiar kind of composition far's the that he could get on the a con vas and then start his experimentation. there's this wonderful repetition you see in his work and it has to be a part of this kind of easy way to begin something. he like many artists started making copies of things in the louvre when he was a student and i think from his words seems to have enjoyed the idea of copying because it freed him from having to worry about his voice or what the style would be and focus on the elements of making a work and starting what the three-figure composition, a bathing composition over and over. or an open window. or a still life with goldfish allowed him to get something and get going on his... in his
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invention. >> and i think he even... bathers by a river at the end is a variant on a three-figure composition in that the two figures at the right can almost be seen as two different positions of the same figure. the figures facing towards us, figures turning in and you're left with this three-figure composition at the left. >> rose: back two. >> the back series begin in 1908 at the same time as "bathers with a turtle." and it's a... the beginning is a clear example of matisse wanting to make sculpture to help him with his paintings. where he's making paintings of life-sized figures he's going to make life sized sculptures and in this case viewing them from the back rather than the front. but once the first one is done
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it becomes the basis of a series and it n a way it's like that development of the paintings where he will do an initial version and then late it sit and then do another version on top but with sculptures, obviously, you can actually make a cast of the thing and keep each stage and in the case of the first one it was clay originally. he had to move studios so he had it cast in plaster and he made a second plaster cast which he worked on again. and he in working on it again he transformed the kind of serpentine curving linear forms of 1908/1909 into something more geo metric and rougher. more kind of cezanneian but also more cubist and he sort of gradually shifting the original more naturalistic conception into something different.
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>> rose: "portrait of yvonne lanceberg." >> the lanceberg portrait is one of the most extraordinary portraits of the 20th century. >> rose: "one of the most extraordinary portraits of the 20th century." >> there's absolutely nothing like it. at first it's such a... to even call it a portrait seems sort of preposterous. and we know that matisse himself was alarmed by what it looked like when he finished it. he felt that it had been sort of possessed. he didn't really know where he was going. he was changing it regularly. he was scrubbing out paintings, washing off part of the surface. he did some beautiful etchings of yvonne landsberg which show her to be a very young woman and he surrounded her by flowers so that she looks tender and
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extraordinary beautiful. and, you know, what happened? and we see what happened was, you know, this great transformation of what obviously was originally a naturalistic picture where he'd gone back and was trying to evoke the kind of sensation of how this figure could be placed in space. and these great lines were put in right at the end and he said he wanted to allow the qig your to expand into the space. people have related them to futurism and they clearly do resemble that. but i think for matisse although he may have had in mind what earlier artists had done, he was using it himself to create a sort of quality of this figure now blossoming into this space and, you know, so we're faced with all the scratching you think is it finished?
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but duchamps had this wonderful term about this where he said... actually one of his own works that he said "it is definitively unfinished." >> rose: (laughs) that's great. >> and the quality in some of these matisses, the sense of it's definitive, it's absolutely how it's meant to be. but in conventional usage, you would think it was unfinished but that's how he wanted it. >> this is a very important picture in the show and in this period in matisse's work. he in i think the last painting he makes before... in the fall when the war starts is this painting of still life with palette. and then there's a period of probably nine months or so where matisse doesn't paint at all. in the fall, september, i think, 1914, matisse's studio and home
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are reck we sigsed by the french military and we know from some information that he and his wife tried to put things in order before they had to leave, roll paintings, bury sculptures possibly in the backyard. it's lovely to imagine after months of not painting and the burden of the war weighing heavy on him, feeling whether he was supposed to paint well or not that that was a hard thing to do at this time, making lots of prints, trying to put food packages together. in the spring when he goes back home to ici after the french military has left and he begins to put his studio back together he rediscover this is wonderful copy that he made as a student in the louvre from 1893, a wonderful wartime still life, dutch still life. it's a much more somber painting than the 1915 version he makes. but that importance of copying, again, of not having to worry about your style, not worrying
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about what your voice is and learning the abc's of painting, i think that copy and his desire to redo it, as he said, putting into it everything he had learned since i think it afforded him a great opportunity to get his chops back. to paint again and take on cubism and bring into it everything he did. that's the painting that in 1952 i guess, it was published. 1951 "the interview" where matisse said "that painting was made with the methods of modern construction." so it's important for matisse to sort of... a moment when he's coming back to his work, it's important for us, for our exhibition as well." i think also that the original painting which he'd copyed in the louvre was a dutch 17th seine century painting of a rich still life made at a time of war for the dutch. an image of plenty during wartime. and i think it's fascinating that matisse chooses this again
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during the war. and it's good food and drink, images of music, images of reading, of all the benefits of peacetime which is then redoing at a time of war. as stephanie said, he says he's going to redo it with the modern methods of modern construction which provide the geometry of it. he's going to put in everything he's learned since and as you look at the picture, each part of it is treated differently. as it's going through a kind of primer of fferent painting methods. so it's coming back to painting and kind of laying out the palette in a way of what would happen later and it really opens on to the second great part of this period really from 1915 through 1916 where the ambition jumps hugely in terms of the size and the ambition of the pictures. >> rose: "the piano lessons."
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>> "the piano lesson." of the big pictures done in 1916 completed in 1916, "bathers by a river ""the moroccans" and "the piano lesson" "the piano lesson" depicts an actual place. the others are imaginations and really "the piano lesson" brings to a conclusion and i think to a great climax the whole sequence of interiors that is done earlier. both interiors of the house at ici outside paris where his main studio was and the ones done in paris itself. and it's... we know it was originally a very detailed painting of the artist st. pierre sitting at a piano.
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above him the painting-- the painting which is actually in the exhibition-- of a woman on a high school at the opposite corner an early sculpture, one of the most sensual of matisse's sculptures as opposed to the very severe figure in the painting. so there's a kind of dichotomy being thrown up immediately between sensuality and sternness there. and then on the piano in front are the metronome and a candle both obviously telling us that time is... >> rose: passage of time. >> passage of time is one of the thems. as he reworked it, he allows us to see the passage of time in his painting to show as well. so it isn't... time isn't only given through the subject matter through the theme but it's given through the treatment and particularly down the left-hand
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side you can see how he scarred the paint, scratched into it and we can also see looking carefully through the gray surface the marks of earlier painting as he's condensed and simplified and altered. and yet miraculously it's not moved towards some kind of reducted abstraction. it remains very much tied to a moment and the big green wedge which we see at the left of the picture is, i think, the record of smk turning on a light inside the room and light drops out into the garden and that part of the garden is illuminated. >> rose: a portrait of... >> well, this is, of course, number two and there was a version previous that pellerin was not happy with.
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he commissioned this portrait and i think... >> rose: (laughs) try again. >> i think he was not happy with it. he thought he didn't look in his best light so matisse gave him another option. to me it's a wonderful picture. it's imposing, very serious, very, very monumental in its own way. i love the black in this painting and how incredibly velvety and deep. it has that kind of lovely quality and it takes over the whole picture. in its own way, although it's a commissioned work and should be complimentary to the sitter marx's the is at the same time abstracting and reducing that face. pellerin looks like an insect to me and his head seems to be floating above that collar and the scraping he's now used in a kind of descriptive way instead of scraping away contours and such. it almost seems like pellerin needs to get up. like he's fij jiting and can't sit still. >> rose: that brings me to "bathers by a river."
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>> well... >> rose: what a way to end. (laughs) >> yeah, how much more time do we have, really. >> well, we've talked about how it began. and how we know big changes were begun in 1913 which i think is when it really began to shift from the kind of 1909/1910 more decorative style. and, in fact, we know matisse himself recognized that it began as a kind of arcadeian composition. a composition about, you know, kind of pledge rabble decoration which is what he wanted. but from 1913 it began to change and the november, 1913 photograph which matisse had taken shows that he was feeling pretty satisfied with it at that point and actually looking at it it looks pretty good. but looking back from the completed set, we can see that
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the grass looked maybe too naturalistic for him, the water to specific and that he wanted to push it further. so, you know, he gradually moves to this extraordinary state and i do think that the black does come in from the experience of the moroccans and some of the still lives and we can see very clearly in the images produced on the basis of the cross sections that he changed these bands in some cases as many as six times for each band, shuffling the color combinations but obviously to end with a picture which is verdant on one side which looks back to the old arcadeian concept and on the right-hand side is very austere and barren, you know, it's... it does make you think about the
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war. it didn't an allegory of the war but remember that wonderful book for how many years ago written by paul fussel called "the great war in modern memory" where he wrote about world war i being the anti-pastoral war, the war than more than any earlier war was destructive of nature. and matisse was painting in this while he could hear that destruction. he could hear 70 kilometers away the battles which were killing a generation of frenchmen and destroying the french countryside. and it has to be in that that picture. but i think that if we look at the picture and say, oh, yeah, it's an allegory of the war, these are soldiers or something, we miss the extraordinary achievement of what matisse did. and we know when it was exhibited in 1926 his son-in-law
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gave a lecture about the picture which matisse said he really liked it. but you know when his son-in-law spoke about these things cut by an ax he said "no, they're beautiful, they're delicate. can't you see the figure at the left taking off her shirt? it reminds you of this incident a long time ago. " and when his son-in-law said the figures are floating he said "no, they're firmly planted on the ground." he had a real image in his mind of something which was in the past even though it had been mightily transformed. >> i think we can see that in the painting even if we didn't know about the changes previous. when we look at this picture this is exactly matisse retrieving that arcadeian past in a way. there isn't a face or a head, there's a circular form and there's green there and that's actually the very first layer of
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"bathers" when it was painted. it's the green from the foliage in the 1909 composition. even if you don't know that you can certainly see it's been scraped down to something from the past and so whether it's the composition previous or the work previous, there's something about this painting when you look at the surface and you see what's painted on top and what's been scraped back and incorporated into the present image, i think that's really about reprieving something from before and bringing it into something. i think it's got a... in and of itself it's got a sense of things past remembrance during the war. >> rose: and extraordinary painting to end on which matisse himself considered one of his most pivotal paintings. my thanks to the art institute of chicago and to stephanie d'alessandro, gary c. and francis comer at the art institute of shog and john elderfield, chief curator emeritus at the museum of modern
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arts. this exhibit originally on disat the art institute here at moma until october 11. again, my thanks to these remarkable curators. thank you. >> thank you, charlie. >> rose: thank you for joining us. see you next time.
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tv
Charlie Rose
PBS September 6, 2010 11:00pm-12:00am PST

News/Business. (2010) Curators John Elderfield and Stephanie D'Alessandro discuss the MoMA exhibit 'Matisse Radical Invention, 1913-1917.' (CC) (Stereo)

TOPIC FREQUENCY Us 12, Paris 9, Chicago 7, Stephanie 5, John Elderfield 3, Stephanie D'alessandro 3, Matisse 3, Van Gogh 2, New York 2, Greece 2, Francis Comer 1, Jackson 1, Soulers 1, Henri Matisse 1, Pablo Picasso 1, John 1, Abc 1, Gary 1, Discomfited 1, United States 1
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